No, wolves were not reintroduced into California. Wolves have returned to the state on their own by dispersal of individuals from source populations in other states. Since the 2011 dispersal of Oregon wolf OR-7, one breeding pack and several dispersed wolves are currently known to be in the state.
Yes, gray wolves (Canis lupus) are a native species to California. They were likely extirpated from California in the 1920s. There are currently two known museum specimens in California.
- Historical range of the wolf in California most likely included the Sierra Nevada, southern Cascades, Modoc Plateau, Klamath Mountains and perhaps the North Coast Ranges.
- Observations by early explorers and settlers suggest wolves were also in the Central Valley, the western slope of the Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains, and the Coastal Ranges until the early 1800s.
- Their historical abundance and distribution are poorly understood with many anecdotal reports, but few preserved specimens.
There is no definitive answer. Studies demonstrate that human activity can have a negative impact on wolf populations, particularly where there are roads and agricultural activity. Wolves were likely killed to control predation on other animals. Other factors, including hunting, may have contributed to their extirpation from California.
Since 2014, gray wolves are listed as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The "take" of a gray wolf is prohibited anywhere in the state, including to hunt, pursue, harass, catch, capture, or kill. There is no hunting season for wolves in California.
Note: Effective January 2021, gray wolves will no longer be a listed species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Wolves historically occupied diverse habitats throughout North America, including forests, grasslands, deserts and tundra. In California, the current known suitable wolf habitat encompasses millions of acres of public and private forests, rangeland, and agricultural lands in the northern portion of the state.
Wolves are habitat “generalists,” meaning they can adapt to living in many kinds of habitat. They basically need two things to thrive: abundant prey and human tolerance.
Gray wolves are carnivores. Their primary prey sources are large native species, mainly elk and deer. Wolves will also consume other mammals, birds, and reptiles. They will opportunistically scavenge carrion, and may prey on large livestock under certain circumstances.
Adult wolves can weigh up to 120 pounds and stand 26-34 inches at the shoulder. Their coat is usually grizzled gray, but can be mostly or all black. The tail hangs down or straight, but never curled. Wolf tracks may be up to 4 inches wide and 5 inches long.
If you see an animal you suspect to be a wolf take a picture if possible, note the exact location, date, number of animals, and what they were doing, and report this information to CDFW.
Wolves are known to kill and consume coyotes and several studies show that coyote populations decrease when wolves become reestablished in the same habitat. Wolves sometimes kill bears, particularly while bears are denned up in the winter, but it is unusual for wolves to eat bears. Wolf packs will occasionally kill mountain lions particularly when wolves take over the carcass of a mountain lion kill. Mountain lions and black bears are the only native predators in California capable of killing an adult wolf. In summary, wolves, bears and mountain lions are capable of, and do, kill each other. Although one species may consume another, they do not rely on these other large carnivores as prey.
One factor shown to limit wolf populations in other states is prey availability. Elk populations in states with wolves (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming) have mostly remained stable. In a few areas, impacts of wolf predation on specific elk populations have been substantial. Elk behavior has been documented to change when wolves are present. In Idaho, Montana and Wyoming there is little if any information to indicate deer populations have been significantly affected. Where deer and elk populations are low, and human activity and population density are high, wolf populations generally remain low.
Wolves rarely pose a direct threat to human safety. Wild wolves generally fear and avoid people. It is important to know how to avoid contact with wild animals before entering their habitat. In the past 40 years, 18 reports of wolf aggression toward humans have been reported. Eleven of those reports involved wolves habituated to humans and six involved domestic dogs. In recent years there was one confirmed human mortality in Alaska by wolves.
Wolves can become habituated to humans in areas where they regularly encounter humans or human food. To avoid habituation, wolves, like all wildlife, should never be fed or approached. People should never approach, feed, or otherwise interact with a wolf.
- If you have a close encounter with a wolf or wolves, do not run. Maintain eye contact.
- Act aggressively, make noise while retreating slowly.
- If the wolf does not retreat, continue acting aggressively by yelling or throwing objects.
Wolves can host tapeworms (Echinococcus species). Typically, tapeworms and their eggs are found in the intestine and feces of an infected animal. Other animals (deer, elk, moose, sheep, goats, cows, rodents) can become infected by ingesting eggs passed with the canine feces. If these animals are then consumed by another animal, the tapeworm life cycle begins again.
People may become infected if they ingest tapeworm eggs from an infected animal. This may occur while consuming vegetation, drinking contaminated water, or by not washing hands before eating. Most human infections are associated with infected domestic dogs, not wildlife.
- Do not touch or disturb wolf, coyote or fox scat.
- Do not consume or allow pet dogs to consume uncooked meat or organs of wild or domestic ungulates.
- If pet dogs have access to carcasses, talk to a veterinarian about an appropriate deworming treatment.
- Wear gloves when field dressing a canid carcass and wash any body part that may have come into contact with feces or contaminated fur.
Some wolves may view livestock or livestock carcasses as an easy food source. Livestock loss due to wolf depredation are known to occur, though this is not common. There are effective predator aversion methods that can be used to protect livestock and reduce conflict, including fladry, turbo fladry, range riders, night penning, and foxlights.
Wolves are by nature territorial and will defend their territories, especially against dogs and coyotes. They can view domestic dogs as competitors, territorial intruders, or prey. Dog owners must be aware of the potential risk to their dogs if they are in wolf habitat, especially when guarding or herding livestock, hunting, accompanying hikers or running. Take precautions to limit potential conflicts.
- Place a bell or beeping collar on dogs that roam
- Talk loudly to the dog and/or use whistles
- Control the dog so that it stays close to you; this should cause wolves to associate dogs with humans
- Place the dog on a leash if wolves or sign of wolves are seen
- Keep pets and their food indoors, especially at night
- Remember, it is illegal to shoot at or attempt to injure or kill a wolf even if it is attacking your dog